Keeping the paths open

An interesting meeting yesterday with the Former Staff Association. I had been invited to give a short presentation on the aims of the Logins for Life project which I was happy to do. I was even happier that it presented an opportunity for me to hear the views of this group.

Access to University resources, particularly email, was important for most Kent veterans. There was hardly a dissenter to the view that hanging on to your email address beyond your time as a staff member or student had many benefits. For some it was about maintaining social links with former colleagues for others also about still ‘feeling part of the academic community’.

This was not the only item on the wish list though. Many academics continue their research or at very least maintain a great interest in their subjects throughout their lives. This group were frustrated that they no longer had access to relevant online journals. Understandably, there was less interest in this for non-academic ex-staff.

Particularly if there was likely to be a cost attached. And there’s the rub.

That is not to say that a reasonable charge for the use of University’s on-line services was thought to be un-acceptable. But people did not want to pay for services of no interest to them. So the discussion moved on to the possibility of a tiered system whereby a subscriber could opt in or out and the subscription price would vary accordingly. Suggested menu items were:

  • Email re-direct only service
  • Full email facility with storage
  • Access to online journals
  • Access to departmental research data
  • Help desk facilities

Setting up a potentially complex system like this would require re-negotiations of many licences and perhaps extra staff hours would be needed if help desk facilities were to be included. The ex-staff I spoke to were appreciative of the service they had received from IT and Help desk staff and would very much welcome the opportunity to have such a service available to them again – even if it had a cost. An interesting idea though very carefully worded SLA’s would be needed.

Handled well, a scheme like this could also raise our profile and enhance our reputation amongst an influential and well-respected section of the community.  Is there also potential here for a new income stream for Universities with the added bonus of a reliable contacts list for ex-members? Or do we risk tying up University resources addressing the needs of a group that are one step removed from our core customer group?

My opinion is that this feels good and adds balance to the work the project is doing looking at the needs of our users at the other end of their careers. Both groups are a valuable part of the wider University of Kent community.  Maybe not all those wishes are achievable but certainly worth exploring.  The devil as ever is in the detail.

What’s not to like?


Six months into the project and we are starting to look at and analyse some of the very useful data from the surveys and interviews I have been doing. One of the most interesting things to emerge has been the variety of responses to the ‘social networking integrated with educational resources’ question. We asked whether a facility which allowed use of social networking credentials to gain access to some of the University’s online resources– and let’s face it Facebook is going to have the lion’s share of that – was a good idea and likely to be useful. We also sought opinions on streaming information like timetabling data, lecture reminders and library loans into Facebook, Google, Yahoo etc .

I think if I had been asked to guess I might have said that many of the staff and managers of systems would be somewhat cautious and that the overwhelming majority of students would have said something along the lines of ‘Duh! Why are you even asking?’

Yes please 🙂

I have learnt once again the dangers of stereo typing.

Very few staff raised objections to the concept though as one would expect many did add provisos about the necessity for appropriate levels of assurance and perhaps some reminders about not leaving Facebook logged in in the communal kitchen.

I’d prefer if we didn’t encourage even more social networking. I’m one of those people who find it all quite nauseating’

Whilst it is true that a majority of students did think it a great idea it was not a landslide. Somewhere around 40% were unequivocal in their support for it with around 30% being decidedly against the idea. The remainder sat on the fence or seemed a little confused by the idea.
Comments left by the students ranged from excited encouragement to a few rather rude suggestions as to what we could do with social networking applications. Many responses displayed a disarming honesty and a work ethic which the tabloids would have us believe non-existent in anyone under fifty. ‘It would be too much of a distraction’ ‘I’d prefer if we didn’t encourage even more social networking. I’m one of those people who find it all quite nauseating’ ‘You’d be making it too easy and tempting to procrastinate!’
With a plethora of articles recently about Facebook privacy – or perceived lack thereof – it was no surprise to find concerns about that too. Some didn’t seem to trust the University not to delve into what they were getting up to with whom and others didn’t trust the applications not to start harvesting data about their academic records or what clubs and socs they belong to.
Still despite all this I think the trend is towards having everything you need in one place – that place usually being on a smart phone. Of course no-one will be forced to have a Facebook account before they can come to university. On the other hand amalgamating university and social life will only encourage the onslaught of Facebook – and the chance that those who don’t FB will feel marginalised.
So should we rethink the whole idea? Do we ride that snowball or try to leap out of the way as it rolls by us?